As a yoga teacher, I constantly hear from students, “I can’t touch my toes.” But the truth is, anyone can—just bend your knees. Most people think touching your toes is about stretching your hamstrings, but really hamstrings stretch only so far. The goal is actually to get more length in the spine by arching your lower back.
If you want to eventually straighten your legs, practice this forward bend daily: Start standing, bend your knees, and fold forward to touch your toes. Once you find this position, keep your back long and your abs engaged. Breathe deeply as you slowly lift your hips while continuing to touch your toes. When you can’t lift your hips any more, hold for at least five to eight breaths, then slowly round up to stand.
With practice, you may experience improvements in back pain and less tension in your shoulders and neck. And remember: There is no end goal in yoga. You might never have straight legs, and that’s perfectly fine. Do the pose with bent knees and you’ll still reap the benefits.
The mind perk: Folding all the way forward calms the brain and allows you to reflect inward—partly because you’re looking right at yourself.
Kristin McGee is a leading yoga and Pilates instructor and healthy lifestyle expert based in New York City. She is an ACE certified personal trainer who regularly trains celebrity clients in New York and Los Angeles. She serves as Health’s contributing fitness editor and is frequently seen on national TV. Her latest in a large collection of fitness DVDs is YogaSlim. Follow her on Twitter @KristinMcGee and like her page on Facebook.